Any league that has the sense not to lock themselves out through Christmas and any team that has the sense to mysteriously drive off Theo Peckham gets our business. Where do you go when there is nothing to do and you are still riding high on having survived a Raiders game?
It’s time to go to an ECHL game.
WALKING UP AND WALKING IN
This is the first season that the San Francisco Bulls are playing in the ECHL. And they are playing in the Cow Palace, an aptly named facility that was designed in 1735 for San Franciscans to watch cows parade about. "Look at these things!" they would remark to one another "hopefully someone invents a better sport someday."
At first glance we couldn’t help but think "sweet heavens. This building is o-l-d." Don’t let the futuristic font trick you with it’s Star Trekian ‘A’s in Cow Palace. This barn is ancient. When the Sharks first came into the league they played here for a spell until their new arena was done and it was already old back then. This is an arena that still has pictures of the directors of the agricultural society that funded the place in the 1950s hanging in the lobby. It’s that kind of joint.
But before we could possibly know all of this we had to get into the game. As we bumbled our way through the parking lot and up to the entrance we could see a massive lineup of people waiting to buy tickets. Like hundreds of folks. At first we were like "SAY WHAAAAAAAAA?" and then we were like "OOOOOHHHHHHH*"
There must have been 100 people standing about. Although it was 30 mins to game time we would stand in line for ever and ever waiting for our turn to buy tickets. It wasn’t until we reached the front of the damned thing that we realized we were standing in the line for the popular daily deal site LivingSocial. They had done a deal that day and shattered all expectations for sales.
Whoopsy! That’s hockey in Silicon Valley for you.
STANDING IN LINE
Standing there in the balmy weather waiting to discover we were in the wrong line, we could see hockey jerseys of all sorts. It’s always entertaining to attend a non-NHL game, particularly in a secondary hockey market. It is a rarity to own a hockey jersey of any sort for most folks, so if you are going to the game any jersey will do.
"An ice hockey match on Friday is it?" people will say to one another in the week leading up to the game. "Finally a chance to wear the Swedish Elite League jersey I got for Christmas in 1997 from Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. I believe it’s in the attic next to my WHAM FOREVER sign that I am saving for their inevitable reunion tour."
And so it was that we saw jerseys of every type. Leafs jerseys, Kings, Penguins. A Gretzky team Canada jersey. A few assorted ECHL jerseys including a good many for the home town Bulls. And of course the Bulls being the ECHL affiliate for the Sharks there were a few of those hanging about too.
And here we had a perfectly good Ziggy Palffy Kings jersey with the wrong number on the back that we once bought for $19 sitting in the closet back at Wanye Manor.
Heck, even Robin Brownlee was in the house too, sporting his personalized jersey and rough housing with his Pee Wee hockey team like only he can. He looked a bit younger than we remember him being, but that’s the healthy California lifestyle for you we suppose.
THIS AIN’T NO OILERS GAME
Having finally navigated past all the Living Social deal-getters we made our way through the antiquated lobby and into the arena itself. Now before leaving Edmonton we watched Slapshot for the first time in our life so we have some context for old looking arenas and non NHL barns. But nothing could prepare us for the majesty of the Cow Palace in all of it’s splendor.
The place was old man. Really old. The seats were old. The ceiling was old. Hell even the guy selling peanuts was old. But they had recently upgraded the scoreboard and the sound system and that really made all the difference for an ingame experience that was actually quite entertaining.
It was Teddy Bear toss night and the Bulls had asked fans to bring stuffed toys to the game to toss onto the ice which would be donated to charity. It’s not how many fans you have in the building that counts in your first year of operation. It’s the quality of the fans and if charity preparedness is any indication the Bulls are going to be just fine.
When the Bulls finally scored on the powerplay in the third period it rained down stuffed animals as though it would never stop. And credit to the Bulls players, they didn’t sit on the bench while arena staff loaded the donations into bags. They got busy and helped load all the bears and raised their sticks in salute to the fans in the stands.
And this brings us to an actual point in this folksy rambling article during a hockey lockout.
PLAYING IN THE ECHL
We sat there during a stoppage in play in the third period, watching San Francisco Bulls players loading stuffed animals off the ice into bags. We couldn’t help but compare them to the many prima donnas in the NHL today. Those who wouldn’t be caught dead helping out arena staff in any situation. The players in the ECHL should be commended because although heart breakingly close, their dreams of fame and fortune in the NHL will for remain just out of reach for most of them.
And they know it and yet they give it their all.
They have made the exact same sacrifices as their brothers-in-arms in the NHL. They have trained just as hard and have made the same sacrifices growing up. They have played through the same injuries too, risking futures as hobbled old men time and time again. And yet because of a variety of reasons they will never have the NHL experience that so many douchebags are taking for granted during this lockout.
The next time some 5 Star Nerd Alert like Brandon Prust wants to spout off on Twitter about his lockout problems he may want to take pause and thank his lucky stars that the breaks went his way and he is in the NHL instead of down here in the ECHL blocking shots on Teddy Bear toss night. Globally speaking these players are exactly the same, the 0.1% global elite of all the kids that slogged it out in minor hockey chasing their dreams.
Maybe it was a bad coach somewhere along the way that put them into a lesser role. Maybe it was being drafted by the wrong team who was already deep in their particular position. Maybe it was having 99% the physical and mental gifts of an NHL player but not being able to develop that all too important remaining 1%.
Whatever the case here the ECHL players were loading bears into bags, playing their hearts out, blocking shots and going into the corners as though they weren’t playing for a fraction of a fraction of the money that all too many NHLers are turning down today.
These guys are soldiers.
HOW MUCH IS BEER!?
When we saw that they were charging $9.50 per beer at the game we almost dropped dead on the spot from shock. $9.50 per beer? $11 margaritas?! Why do teams that aren’t selling out the place insist on pricing alcaholic beverages so high? Your ol’ pal Wanye may not have his Doctorate in Businessology but here is some unsolicited advice for teams like the San Francisco Bulls.
You want to build a loyal fan base right? You need people who have disposable income, free time on their hands and will come out night after night regardless of the product on the ice in the short term. Among the people to go after are college aged kids, party animals and the like.
The way to do this is to make beers cheap. If beers are cheap and it’s understood that they keep a great many of them at the game ready to be drank people will come over time for no other reason than it’s an inexpensive night on the town. You don’t need to be a hockey fan right off the bat to understand that.
Get em good and liquored up on the cheap draft and they will scream and yell at whatever happens on the ice. They will hi five one another. They will tell their buddies "we should go to the Bulls game, beers are like $3. I don’t know what a hockey is – but beers are LIKE THREE BUCKS!!"
The place to make your money isn’t by overpricing beers. For heavens sakes, think of the college kids.
Oh but the Zamboni was Molson Canadian, which gave us such a wave of homesickness that we went and bought two of them immediately at the start of the second period price be damned.
We went to an ECHL game and had a surprisngly good time though the home town heroes fell 5-1. It rained stuffed animals and we had some Molson Canadians far from home. Then we used an article about it to rant about prima donna NHL players and over priced beer. The lockout is making us into a preachy know it all goof. It can end any day now thank you very much.
*Hat tip to Devan Dubnyk where ever he may be.